There’s nothing like bingeing holiday flicks this time of year, and of course soaking in all the warm and fuzzies that come along with them. But true to form, you won’t be surprised that I’m always looking for leadership lessons that can be learned from some of my favorites. Here are four films that always get me in the holiday spirit. Take a look, and then please share your own picks and any leadership-related themes – let’s build a must-see list together.
Who would have thought there would be so much drama and conversation over whether or not Die Hard is truly a holiday movie? Of course it is! But what does it have to do with leadership? There are so many answers to that question … where do I start?
First, if you know anything about the history of the movie, then you know it went through multiple rewrites and re-workings, which is exactly what happens within a corporate structure. No big idea or success story comes without teamwork, brainstorming, and then a whole lot of hard work, changes and challenges before final production.
And did you know that at the time of casting, because Bruce Willis wasn’t known as an action hero, there were plenty of skeptics who didn’t think he could play the main role of John McClane, a cop and hero. That line of thinking is often mirrored in office settings, when talented future leaders are overlooked because they don’t fit a stereotype of what a strong manager or executive should be. But guess what? When you invest in leadership development and are willing to look outside the scope of stereotypes, great things can happen.
And finally, McClane represents the reality of what so many professionals struggle with each day – balancing work, life and love. For a thorough run-down of this, and yes I’ll say it, holiday classic, check out this great summary from Parade.com.
I have to admit that I just recently saw this movie, and only because it was already playing on one of my streaming services. And wow, I was captivated by its star, Queen Latifah, and instantly regretted having taken so long to view this 2006 gem of a holiday flick. Is it dated? Of course, which makes it that much more valuable because we are reminded of the same ongoing struggles we see today with corporate greed and the loss of company values.
Latifah plays a sales clerk, Georgia Byrd, who lives and works in New Orleans, and is a small cog in the big wheel of a chain department store with inept leadership (it’s definitely not a people-first organization). While dreaming of another life, she spends her days seeped in mundane routines, even cooking extravagant meals for others while refusing to enjoy her own creations.
Through a twist of unexpected events, she decides it’s time for a vacation. So she cashes in her 401k and travels to a very high-end resort at Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. While being authentic, genuine and true to who she is, she wins over the staff and some high-powered politicians/guests along the way, many of whom represent exactly how not to be an effective leader. Without giving anything away, the delightful comedy reminds us to embrace and enjoy life, while also pushing ourselves to be brave and courageous in the face of adversity. Here’s a thorough review at RoberEbert.com.
The Polar Express
When I first saw The Polar Express, I was completely mesmerized by the stunning animation. But long after the final credits rolled, I kept thinking about what leaders can learn from it.
One of the most impressive things about the movie is that Tom Hanks plays six roles, which is a perfect metaphor for all the different roles leaders must take, depending on the situation. In his role as the Conductor, his primary goal is to reach the North Pole, and so his actions and decisions must support that goal. At the same time, he has awareness for the individual personalities onboard, and is flexible according to their needs. He is both firm and supportive.
One of the main themes of the movie is self-discovery, which is a vital component in both personal and professional growth. Having a desire to learn is a sign of emotional intelligence, and it also happens to be key in self-awareness and becoming a powerful leader. Here is an interesting take on more Polar Express life and leadership lessons here.
I can always count on Elf to get me in the holiday spirit. I mean, who doesn’t love a giant-sized elf who shares his child-like enthusiasm for Christmas wherever he goes? But from a leadership perspective, I love Santa Claus. I mean, here’s a guy who enjoys world-wide success due to his superb leadership skills, which include his ability to inspire, organize, manage, and build teams .
In terms of communication, Santa holds regular meetings with his elves to make sure everyone is focused on the vision, which is to spread joy and cheer all over the world. Even better, he actually solicits ideas and actively listens to feedback.
Santa also knows how to delegate responsibility, and makes sure his elves have purpose and areas of expertise, like making or packaging toys, caring for the reindeer, or conducting research. And even though getting presents made and then delivered on time across the globe is high-pressure, Santa knows how to have fun because he genuinely loves his job. In the real world, leadership positions are also stressful and highly visible, but when we also have fun and share our enthusiasm, it creates a positive work culture that allows teams to do their best – all year long. I also love its many witty lines – many of which are included in this article, 29 Memorable Quotes from Elf.
What Are Your Favorites?
I would love to hear about your binge-worthy holiday movies, and any leadership lessons you have gleaned from them. Please add them below so I can add them to my list!